June will be a sweet month for Winnipeg men who've been thinking about having a suit custom-made.
No less than three Hong Kong-based tailors will set up shop in downtown Winnipeg hotels for a couple of days each, doing fittings and taking orders for suits made by their renowned low-cost companies.
But the real good news is there are two local made-to-measure men's suit purveyors with new permanent storefronts opening in Winnipeg.
Both are capitalizing on a trend to greater customization in men's fashion with the enticing prospect of having a perfect suit in exactly the style and colour you want that fits like only something made-to-measure can.
And just like the travelling Hong Kong firms, their price points are less than off-the-rack.
On Friday, Eph Apparel is opening its first storefront after establishing a booming custom-made suit business that's been packing them in at twice monthly fittings at the Winnipeg Winter Club for the past couple of years.
Started in 2010 by three recent Asper business school grads -- Alex Ethans, Maciek Hunek and Andrew Parkes -- the Eph Apparel guys have been pounding the pavement doing evening and lunch-hour office and home fittings in Winnipeg and as far afield as Calgary and Toronto for the better part of three years.
About 90 per cent of their customer base -- now 4,000 strong -- is in Winnipeg and the busy-ness and expense of the regular Winter Club sessions prompted them to take the leap and open a full-time shop on the main floor at 291 Garry St.
"We've been able to build up a nice following through word-of-mouth, strong product, strong customer service and we quickly found ourselves with a business rather than a part-time hobby," said Ethans.
Ethans quit his first post-grad management job only nine months after accepting the position because the evenings-and-weekend operation was already too busy.
Sales have effectively doubled every year and they expect to do $1.5 million in business this year.
"We want to play a part in changing the way men buy suits and make it a fun experience," Ethans said. "We also want to be educational, teach guys about the suit -- the cut of the lapel, the number of buttons, why some might go with one option or another whether because of body type or age."
Gaining a following with the younger, hip crowd who favour ultra-slim European cuts -- starting at $299 -- Eph Apparel will also have more traditional styles made by their exclusive tailor house based in Shenzhen, China.
"Our business was built around the frustration in buying suits that I felt when I graduated from business school and was in need of five suits," he said. "Everything I tried on felt like my dad's suits. Of the ones I did like, I could only afford one. So I could either buy one I loved or five I didn't like."
Ethans says it's not just the cut and fit that's attractive. Personal touches such as funky linings and monograms become expressions of individual style.
And it seems there is plenty of business to be had.
When Eph was starting, Shane Johnston, a partner in Dollar Wise Quality Cleaners, became Eph's distribution and alteration centre of sorts. When Eph's volumes increased to about 400 suits per month, it prompted some changes to their business arrangements so Johnston decided to start his own business. He found a tailor -- his is in Hong Kong -- and three months ago started his own made-to-measure operation, Zev Apparel, out of a Pembina Highway Dollar Wise location.
"Absolutely, the demand is there," said Johnston when asked if there is room in the market for another custom-made suit shop.
Zev's price points are a little higher and his operation will also do made-to-measure women's suits.
Eph Apparel has always offered what they call their "flawless-fit guarantee" where they will pay for up to $75 in alterations if required after the suit arrives and will have a new one made if that's not enough. Zev offers a similar guarantee.
Raja Daswani of Raja Fashions, based in Kowloon, Hong Kong, will be in Winnipeg next week for two days at the Radisson Hotel.
He said people realize they can get price, quality and fit when they buy a bespoke suit.
He said demand is growing worldwide, citing Canada and the U.S., the Persian Gulf countries, Japan, Australia and a handful of European countries as locations that his company regularly visits.
"As for Winnipeg, it is a small market but growing," he said in an email. "Our regular customers want us to come back so they can have the same service like we give in other big cities."